From the Endless Simmer Inbox: How to Avoid Unfortunate Culinary Fusions

Prego sauce

ES Inbox is an occasional occurrence when a reader sends us a question and we have no fucking idea what the answer is. Please helps us look good by providing guidance in the comments.

Dear lovely ES crew,

I need some help. My husband and I just moved and are living with my wonderful in-laws while we get our feet on the ground in a new city. We’re so fortunate to have their support! I’d been doing a lot of the cooking around here until I took an evening shift job, and now my father-in-law puts together a lot of meals. The other night, my husband texted me at work: his father had paired a jarred generic “Indian curry” sauce with sliced-up pre-cooked garlic & sun-dried tomato chicken sausage.

Woah there.

Similar unfortunate culinary fusions have taken place when he’s cooking, and we’re having trouble helping him understand the concept that certain flavors and foods *belong* together, and others… don’t. We’re trying to be gracious, but I don’t think I could handle another episode of last night’s sweet-and-sour chicken cut up and simmered in Prego.

We’re looking for a simple way to help teach him about regional flavors and foods that “go” together without being total assholes about it. Can you help? My husband and I (and my mother-in-law!!!) thank you in advance!


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  • gansie October 18, 2010  

    i’ll start. it seems like your father-in-law enjoys being in the kitchen so hopefully that will translate into him wanting to learn more about food.

    to answer the “go-together” question – i would buy him Flavor Bible. it’s lists and lists of ingredients and what goes with what ingredients. there arent recipes, but guidelines. i think FiL would find he can still be creative in the kitchen but just have starting off place.

    second. sit him in front of the tv. get him to watch america’s test kitchen, avec eric, jacques pepin, barefoot contessa, giada, jose andres. shit, even rachael ray could help here.

    just get him learning – he’ll get there.

  • BS October 18, 2010  

    Is it just me, or does the first dish not sound that bad? The sweet and sour Prego though, I can’t defend that.

    I say the number one thing you should do is — don’t discourage him! The only way he can learn which flavors go together is by experimenting, and I would way rather have to choke down some awful combos once in awhile than have to eat bland, uninspired food every night. There’s nothing worse than a cook who is afraid to be adventurous. So tell him to keep playing around, and just be sure to have some frozen pizzas on hand as back-ups.

  • Borracho October 18, 2010  

    Agree with gansie and BS. It definitely seems to be part of an effort to not only help out but maybe to try and fit the type of food he thinks the two of you would like or that you had been preparing. Maybe in addition to the already mentioned suggestions, when possible cook with him or have conversations about favorite recipes etc… Any opportunity to go shopping is also great starting point to have a conversation about food pairings. Keep us informed of the progress and enjoy! Though the pairings may be a little skewed right now, he obviously has an interest and desire to cook which can lead to some great meals.

  • erica October 18, 2010  

    maybe just take a world map and use highlighter to show which countries can be compatible? spain and mexican you can combine *most of the time* safely… etc etc?

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